- The Washington Times - Friday, May 30, 2008

Manu Ginobili has a habit of crashing to the floor, where he writhes in terrible agony and waits to be carried off the floor in a stretcher before being airlifted to the nearest emergency room.

The referee has no choice at this point but to make the pity call that benefits his Spurs.

Miraculously enough, Ginobili jumps to his feet after the call is made and starts exchanging high-five congratulations with his teammates.

Ginobili is hardly the only serial flopper in the NBA, just one of the more dramatic ones, no doubt because of soccer’s influence on him while growing up in Argentina.

Soccer players are the best at drawing a call from the referees, mostly because of their acting ability to sell a play. Whenever a soccer player surrenders the ball to a defender, he drops to the turf in searing pain, as if he has been shot three or four times and is down to the final seconds of his life.

Not unlike Ginobili, the soccer player stays in the prone position until the referee makes the call. And then, as if he has been magically cured by mental telepathy, the player rises to his feet in an instant, showing no ill effects from what appeared to be a career-ending injury just moments earlier.

The creeping influence of soccer in the NBA is partly a product of the growing foreign contingent. This is not to overlook the influence of Dean Smith, the former North Carolina coach who refined the drawing of the player-control foul with his players and encouraged many imitators.

Brendan Haywood flashes this training in behalf of the Wizards. And it does take practice to fall in a fashion that impresses the referees. Haywood’s sense of timing has eluded Andray Blatche, who seemingly incurs at least one blocking call a game.

Alas, the NBA’s higher-ups have decided that they have had enough of the theatrics and plan to fine the most egregious floppers next season.

That will hurt the value of Anderson Varajeo, the mop-topped Cavalier whose contributions do not extend much past falling to the floor around the slightest hint of contact.

Varajeo used to be so committed to flopping that he employed it on his teammates in practice until he was told that good teammates do not flop on one another.

The father of the flop is actually a shared honor, or stigma, depending on your point of view.

Both Bill Laimbeer and Vlade Divac enhanced their careers with the flop. Neither player was fleet afoot. Neither player was a shot-blocking artist. But both players were able to compensate for these deficiencies by allowing their legs to turn to jelly whenever someone tried to slip past them to the basket.

Divac was especially mischievous in this fashion and sometimes haunted Shaquille O’Neal in the playoffs.

Even before an entry pass would be made to O’Neal near the basket, Divac would start quivering, as if he were in the throes of a spasmodic attack. Once O’Neal caught the ball, Divac would succumb to a full-body seizure before crumbling to the floor in the hope of receiving a favorable whistle.

Sometimes he swayed the referees and sometimes he didn’t, and sometimes he merely inspired annoyance in O’Neal.

Laimbeer inspired league-wide contempt because of his antics. His likeability quotient was hurt further by a personality that alternated between nasty and whiny.

Laimbeer taught his tricks to Dennis Rodman, who turned them into an art form with the Bulls in the late ‘90s.

Karl Malone detested going against Rodman, who might flop on one play and then shift his weight on the next to cause an opponent to lose his balance.

Rasheed Wallace, the eloquent philosopher of the Pistons, is among those who support the NBA’s crackdown on the flop. He averaged about one expletive a sentence in assessing the flopping propensity of the Celtics in Game 5.

This is perhaps the first time the NBA brass and Wallace have agreed on anything.

And yet, the NBA lightened Wallace’s wallet by $25,000 yesterday.

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